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When there were far fewer people around, far fewer laws and regulations, when the legal speed limit was 75 mph, when gas was cheap, when driving was a pleasure, if you owned a hot machine you could point the grill down an empty road and go!

The Brotherhood of Speed

 


The 60 year history of the Slo Pok club of Vancouver, WA. By Al Drake and Don Pennington. This 18 perhaps the only hot rod club that such a book could be written about. While other clubs have come and gone, the Slo Pok club has been in continuous existence from 1951 to date. The club has boon involved with street rodding, drag racing, car shows, etc. Most of the 50-plus members own two or three interesting cars, and are always building more. In the 1950s and 1960s the club required members to compete at area drag strips. Several have competed at Bonneville salt flats. They have been meeting every Friday evening at an event called "The Alley," which actually began in an alley.

This is a BIG, and notable, book -- 426 pages. Paperback, perfect-bound. 100s of photographs, sketches, designs, artwork. A well-researched book that captures a piece of automotive history. $35.00

Introduction to Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap

This is the introduction to Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap.  The book recaptures 40+ years of essays by Albert Drake that appeared in various automotive magazines. It includes many new and previously unpublished photographs and new material.

Introduction: Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap

I have devoted a large chunk of my life writing columns for automotive magazines. I first wrote a monthly column for Rod Action (later Street Rod Action) for 16 years. During those years I also wrote monthly columns for Rodder's Digest and Street Rodding Illustrated. When those magazines folded I began writing a monthly column for Goodguys Gazette, and that has been going on for 20 years. That means I've been writing the columns for 36 years! That's a lot of columns! I like to think that I've made it into an art form. 

When I started writing the columns I had no intention of continuing them for so long a time. In 1982, to get through a brutal Michigan winter, I wrote a book titled Street Was Fun in ‘51, the first book on historical hot rodding. It was a look back at the good old bad days when I was an active hot rodder. In the course of writing the book it occurred to me that I could take some small part of the larger picture--the nature of dual pipes, or echo cans versus pencil tip tail pipe extensions, or that I might focus on a certain car, or club, or event that I remembered--isolate it and develop it. The first column I wrote was, I believe, about wheel coverings. Then I wrote two more. I had a piece of fiction in Rod Action, the only fiction the magazine ever published, so I wrote to the editor, Brian Brennan, and asked if he'd be interested in seeing those columns. I still have his reply, where he circled a few words of my letter in red ink and wrote "Great Idea!" I was on my way. I called the series "Fifties Flashback," because I wanted to focus on that decade. 

I have to say that I felt a great deal of satisfaction in seeing my work in a popular magazine, usually with a photograph or two, sometimes with a touch of color. When I walked into a 7-11 with a friend I'd go to the magazine stand and pull out the current issue of Rod Action; there on the glossy pages was my work under my by-line. I had been published in numerous respected literary magazines, but those had a limited circulation and were primarily read by academics. Usually those magazines paid little or nothing. In Rod Action my work reached a mass market and I got paid. Most of all, I was writing about a subject that I loved.

The monthly column wasn't the only thing I wrote. I completed and published a major book on the Pontiac GTO, The Big ‘Little GTO’ Book, and compiled and published a book of oral histories about the GTO, Herding Goats. In 1982 I published a novel, Beyond the Pavement, a book I worked on for 20 years! It was chosen by the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission as one of 100 significant Oregon books. And in 1983 I published a fiction collection titled I Remember the Day James Dean Died. Later I published two books that complement each other, and were the result of years of research and travel: Flat Out, a history of California dry lakes speed trials, 1930-1950, and Hot Rodder! From Lakes to Street, the first comprehensive history of hot rodding from the 1920s to the 1980s. Along the way I also published short fiction, poetry, criticism and reviews. Of course all this writing was really a sideline, as my main work was teaching full time, at a major university where I was a full professor. Although writing about cars was not a literary field, I could justify my work because evaluations had shown that students wanted to make a living at writing, and non-fiction was the genre where that was most possible. 

My last columns for Rod Action appeared in the mid-1990s when the magazine folded up. I was owed $6,000; I went to a lawyer, hoping to get at least some of that money, but he dissuaded me, saying that even if I got a judgement I'd find it difficult, probably impossible, to collect. Later I went to a major rodding event put on by the Goodguys organization; Gary Meadors was head of the company, and it was a big deal, staging hot rod events all over the nation. It met Jon Gobetti, a guy I'd corresponded with when he had been editor of Rod Action. We hit it off, and a few days later he gave me a call and suggested that I write a monthly column for the Goodguys Gazette, which he edited. I thought it over, and said okay. By then I was retired, but I had a good deal of energy for writing and travel. Jon wanted me to continue with the title "Fifties Flashback," but I felt that I had pretty much mined the ore from that decade; I decided to call the series "Flashing Back," which allowed me to examine things that happened before and after the 1950s. 

For me, the column never gets old. I can be driving down the road, or weeding in the garden, or washing my car and I'll get an idea that can be developed in the column's 800 word limit. I'm sometimes surprised that I haven't run out of ideas. Every month I wait with anticipation to read the newest installment of what I've written. The Gazette is a handsome publication that has constantly gotten better over the years. It's over-size, substantial, colorful, loaded with interesting and useful articles and profiles of notable people and high-buck hot rods and muscle cars. I'm honored to publish in the Gazette, and readers seem to like my work. 

But I have to say that such approval is not one hundred per cent. Some people simply don't like cars, or those who write about them. When I was a tenured faculty at Michigan State University I was so proud of my columns that sometimes I'd Xerox a few copies and give them to my colleagues. Usually the person said nothing. Sometimes he'd imply that he disapproved of the subject matter, as if writing about hot cars was trivial. A more fitting subject would be the language of Chaucer, or lace-making in the 18th century, or the gender politics of modern fiction. Hot rods were certainly not suitable. One colleague summed up my writing by saying, "Oh, I ran the Model A around the pasture." The dean hated cars. My last department head, Dr. Paananen, didn't drive, and didn't even have a driver's license, which says a lot about his thoughts on cars. When I published the first GTO book I received a lot of publicity and was interviewed by both local and state newspapers; it was front-page stuff, because the Pontiac had been built in Michigan. Some of my colleagues didn't like -- were jealous of? -- the publicity. The department head, Dr. Baskett, asked to see a copy of the book. He returned it after a couple days, saying, "I used to own a Pontiac LeMans." No indication what he thought of the quality of the writing or the extensive research that had gone into the book. It could, in fact, be compared to a doctoral thesis. 

Fortunately, my work has met with the approval of car guys. I have also worked with about ten editors of the Goodguys Gazette who have approved of my work. During the past 20 years a number of other columnists for the Gazette have come and gone, while I have remained. Such longevity indicates that my column has had staying power in a tough magazine world. I don't get much feedback but occasionally I hear comments by readers who say nice things about a particular column or who say that my column is the first thing they read when an issue arrives. Such comments please me immensely, because the nature of writing is that one does it in solitude, and an author always wonders what others think. A reader named Harold sent me a note regarding a particular column, and I can quote it in full: "Al: Re: Synesthesia -- God can you write!" I'd like to think that comment applies to all my writing. 

Please visit the Flat Out Press catalog page to order Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap or other books by Albert Drake.


Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap

 AUTHENTIC: adjective. 1. trustworthy, reliable, 2. of undisputed origin: genuine. Webster's Dictionary

Drake remembers with clarity and detail the first legal drag races, early car shows in California and Oregon, speed trials at Bonneville and Madras, and the ingenuity of the men and women of the time who invented ways to modify the emerging rods and customs in ways to make life interesting.

This selection of essays celebrates the people who made hot rodding an American culture. Rediscover the fun of racing, hanging out, flirting and driving from the voice of someone who experienced the 1950s and has a passion for telling the story of old metal. His stories are authentic.

Albert Drake has been a practicing hot rodder since 1951, when he built a '29 A-V8 Ford roadster. Over 400 of his articles have appeared in a variety of magazines including Street Rodder, Street Rod Action, Rodder's Digest, Popular Cars, Hot Rod Mechanix, Street Rodding Illustrated and many more!

Read the introduction to the book here or read an excerpt from the chapter Remembering Roger Huntington.

509 pages, 268 b/w photos, 8 x 10 x 1.2 inches, paperback (September, 2020)

Stone Press; ISBN: 978-0936892504. Signed copy...$29.00  Order from Flat Out Press, 

or order from Amazon.

Remembering Roger Huntington

Roger Huntington
In 1980 I had a contract to write The Big ‘Little GTO’ Book and although teaching more classes than usual, I spent a great deal of time doing research on the project. Wanted to talk with people who were involved with the Pontiac GTO. Roger Huntington’s name was on the short list because he had road tested the GTO for various magazines and had worked with Jim Wangers, the master promoter, in promoting the GTO.

I’m not certain when I realized that Huntington lived in Lansing, Michigan, but I must have known that for several years before I tried to contact him. I find it strange that I didn’t call him or run into him at a car event, since I worked at Michigan State University at the time, but I was terribly busy with my teaching and academic activities, plus my family, and although I remained interested in cars, that interest took a back seat to other things.

I found Huntington’s house, a tall two-story older house with a full front porch high above ground level. I later realized that his was the house in which he had grown up and had lived in all his life. I climbed the steps, knocked on the door, and then turned the knob and let myself in. It took a minute before I realized why Huntington had not opened the door himself. He sat at a large table in the dining room and before him was an old Remington typewriter, the kind where the keys have a four-inch throw. It wasn’t until I crossed the front room and approached him that I realized that he was sitting in a wheelchair. He greeted me but kept his hands at his sides. I was nervous and more than slightly confused. I had been reading his work for over 30 years and there had never been a hint of his handicap. He went to the Indy 500 every year, roaming the pits and talking with the drivers and mechanics; he had road tested every kind of muscle car, slamming shifts as that neck-popping acceleration sent a heavy car through the quarter mile at over 100 mph. And yet the person I saw before me seemed frail, the skin on his balding head nearly translucent, and as he rubbed the stubble of gray-white hair over his ear with one hand I saw that the fingers were turned inward like a claw. How, I wondered, did he type?

Perhaps my confusion showed, because for the first half hour he was guarded and distant. Trying to ingratiate myself, I mentioned how much I had enjoyed his work over the years and that I still had a copy of the Ford V-8 speed manual that I had bought 30 years earlier. He did not seem impressed or at any rate he did not discuss it further. No doubt he had talked that book out of his system; it was old work and he had gone beyond that flathead stuff. That was what I inferred. A writer, Huntington, wanted to get down to business. He wondered whether I had a contract and who would publish the book. Had I ever seen an HOV engine? Who else had I spoken to about the GTO? Had I talked with Jim Wangers or DeLorean? I said that I talked with George DeLorean, not John, who was so busy with his failing car business and illegal drug deals that I was reluctant to bother him.

I realized that Huntington was testing me, trying to learn what qualified me to write a book about the Pontiac GTO, which was of course, a reasonable question. Perhaps I gave the correct answers or perhaps he was warming to the subject because he began to speak more freely and even gave a hint of a smile when I mentioned something that Wangers had told me. I don’t remember whether I asked if he minded if I use the tape recorder or if I simply turned it on and nudged it closer to him across the table that separated us. I pulled out my list and asked the first question on it hoping to get through all the questions before he dismissed me.

Eventually the GTO book got published and it was a success; it was in print for 18 years and sold 70,000 copies, fantastic figures for an automotive book. I called and spoke with Huntington two or three times, just writers chatting.

Then I got the idea that I wanted to interview him. Would he agree, I wondered. I had talked with numerous car guys on tape but I had never actually interviewed anyone. I guess I wanted to interview Huntington because he was such a public name but most of his readers had no idea that he was working from a wheelchair. Huntington seemed to feel it was time to reveal his handicap too. He spoke freely, revealing that he had been injured in a diving accident when he was 15 years old and had suffered a spinal injury that crippled him for life. He noted that in the 1940s there was no help for handicapped people, and he was schooled at home. On his own he studied engineering and technical subjects.

By 1944, when he was 18, he began writing airplane articles and had some success. But by 1948 the bottom fell out of that market and he began writing automotive articles for Speed Age. As new rod and custom magazines appeared he found new markets, and by 1952 he was earning enough to support himself. As more hot rods appeared in Michigan, Huntington began road testing them – on public highways. He became a member of the Pan Draggers of Lansing. Roy Peterson remembers that the club would put Huntington and his wheelchair in the back of a big touring car and they’d cruise Michigan State College ogling women!

A question I had for Huntington went back to an article he’d written for Rod & Custom in 1952, where he claimed that the top speed in the quarter mile would be 166 mph – at that time cars were going 140 mph. He admitted that he had been wrong! But he pointed out that “we knew nothing of rubber science in those days.” The interview was published right away in Street Rodder and was reprinted in my book, Hot Rodder!. Huntington was happy with the interview.
Huntington died a few years later, on August 24, 1989; he was 63 years old.

The full essay of "Remembering Roger Huntington" was originally published the column Flashing Back in Goodguys Gazette, 2014.  An expanded version is available in Albert Drake's latest book "Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap," September, 2020.

Exploring (Excerpt from "One Summer")

A photo from the Oregonian of the front of the second Lents Public School, 1910 - 1950.
The following is excerpted from the novel One Summer by Albert Drake. Drawing from personal experience, as well as historical events of Portland, Drake weaves the story of a teen in the summer of 1948 that is simultaneously nostalgic and honest. In the chapter "Exploring," the boys visit an abandoned school.
They stood within the cool shadow of the alcove at the rear of the school; on one side was the grassless playground, where huge dusty-brown grasshoppers clacked with urgency in the hot sun, and on the other side the black maw of the open door.
After circling the empty school building, testing every door, they had found this one open. “C’mon,” Horace said again, peering up the darkened stairway as if it were the abandoned fort in Beau Geste. 
Chris looked around the serrated cement column and listened— the empty streets, the dusty playground, grasshoppers—and then he turned and entered the school.
The stairwell was dark and they waited until the familiar objects materialized: the oak bannister, the narrow tongue-and-groove panelling, the foot-worn steps. The school had been in use for over fifty years, and soon it would be demolished.
:::
The slightest noise echoed against the wooden walls, and Chris was sure he could hear the echo of his pounding heart. The halls smelled of sawdust and linseed oil; how many times had he seen Johnny Johnson (“Yonny Yonson”), the janitor, spread against the oak boards to clean up a kid’s vomit? They stood in the darkness of the main hall, dark at two on a brilliant summer day, and darker than anyone could imagine on a rainy winter day.
Inside, the school was both scary and comfortable. He remembered how after one had arrived at the school one was held in the warm classrooms and protected against wind and rain. Many days he had felt the school was cozy; the poor old cafeteria always spouted forth the delicious odor of hot, homemade tomato soup; the poor old auditorium with its folding wooden chairs brought them together for songs and Christmas plays and sometimes a flickering movie showing Sinbad or Gulliver. 
They wandered downstairs and into the gym, whose cement floor had the chill of winter. How many teeth had been chipped or broken on that cement? he wondered, probing with his tongue his own partially missing front tooth. They cautiously pushed open the door to the boys’ john, with its strange labyrinth of tall water reservoirs and pipes. Here Bobby Meersham had fallen while jumping from pipe to pipe and had fractured his skull; perhaps, Chris thought, that accident was what had made him a little nutty.
The inspiration for this story is second Lents School in Portland, Oregon, pictured below.



As others have written...
"The first Lents School at 92nd and Harold in Portland - a wooden structure built in 1902 after a previous school at another location had burned. Note the rural character of its surroundings. It only served for eight years, as in 1910 is was replaced by a new, larger brick and stone structure, also at 92nd an Harold. The newer building lasted until 1950, when it in turn was replaced by the current school at 97th and Steele."


You can purchase copies of One Summer here.

Sandy Boulevard, 1949

Believe it or not, The Smithsonian National Museum of American History has a small bit of Portland's own Sandy Boulevard on display.


Called "Hot Rods and Hangouts -- Portland 1949," the exhibit shows a slice of cruising life.  Hot rods and motorcycles squeeze between a city bus and other traffic.  In the background we see the Tik-Tok Drive-in, the old Hollywood Fred Meyer, and the Wallace Buick dealership. Even the 7-Up bottling plant makes an appearance.





That's right. In Washington, DC, "America's Attic" has deemed Portland an iconic hot-rod city.

Myles Theberge's modified 32 Ford gets a special mention, as well as John Athan's '39 Ford roadster.



Flat Out Press also appreciates the quality of Sandy Boulevard. Here's how Al Drake describes cruising Sandy and around Portland in 'Fifties Flashback: A Nostalgia Trip!


"...Most Saturday nights were balmy, at least in the tricky circuitry of memory, and after we'd finished I started the engine, turned on the lights and waited for the carhop. Then I pulled out, slowly, being cool, hoping the clutch wouldn't chatter, rapping the pipes as we headed down the road. Many nights we made the rounds of other drive-ins. On 82nd I could hit Merhar's, where many of the cycle guys hung out, then cruise through Rutherford's Triple XXX and back through Flanagan's again, just in case someone hadn't seen me. On Sandy there was Jim Dandy's, a real hot-rod hangout, another Rutherford's Triple XXX, then Yaw's, a place where the rich kids from Grant hung out, then on up to the Tik-Tok, a favorite gathering place for rodders since the 'Thirties. That might be enough or one night, my date and I might have other things to do, but if we felt like driving and if I had enough gas we'd hit Bell's Drive-In at the east end of the Ross Island Bridge, or Waddle's, or a couple drive-ins back in the west hills. Portland was a good-size city, but a few runs through the drive-ins and you felt like you knew, or at least had seen, everybody who was car crazy."

Dad's 1935 Packard

Here's a photo of me and my dad on a trip from Oregon to North Dakota. My mother is probably taking the picture. I guess we're in Montana here.

The car is a what I believe is a 1935 Packard. Both sets of doors are suicide doors. It's a flatback model so there's no trunk. As a result, we had to pack all our travel stuff in the back seat.

Earlier Packards were the standard of the world. Their motto was "Ask the man who owns one." The early ones had a lot chrome and stainless -- in 1932 or 1933 they were just loaded.

This a plain 6-cylinder, not so different from a Plymouth or a Studebaker. In the depression they had to make a cheaper car to keep customers, and it worked. They continued making cars, and the marque survived until 1958 when it merged with Studebaker. The results were some pretty unattractive cars.

I think my dad liked larger cars, which is probably why he bought this one.

This photo is in my book "Overtures to Motion," essays about the vehicles before I had a car, learning about cars, and finally getting one.

Old Stuff

The 1952 Speed-O-Rama was the second hot rod show in Portland. It was put on by the newly-formed Columbia Timing Association (CTA), consisting of members from the Road Angels and the Ramblers. As a member of the Road Angels since July, 1951, it was something I was interested in. Although I was still in high school, somehow I managed to spend four days at the Portland Auditorium hanging around the show.

 It was a big enough event that two notable cars came up from California: Earl Evan's Belly Tanker and Fred Carillo's Modified Roadster. Both cars had set records at the third Bonneville meet a couple months earlier. I picked up this poster, which had been propped against the card tire, when they were shutting down.


It wasn't a big show, only about 25 cars, but a big event at the time. The whole event felt brand new -- it was brand new. The concept of a car show, whether someone would pay money to see a car, was a new idea, since the first car show in California was only in 1948.

 Now it's all old stuff, but I still like it.

The Happy Hot Rodder - 29 Ford


Here's a happy hot-rodder showing off his 29 Ford on a 32 frame. The car is a little unusual for the year, probably 1939. It has dual carbs that are set wide apart, AutoPulse electric fuel pump on the firewall -- both modern, and wire wheels -- which is an older touch.

If you look in the background you can see the B&S garage, named for Baldwin & Sommerfelt. They ran it, but the building was owned by a guy named Ike. Later, in the 70's I met with Julian Doty who worked on cars in LA and we walked down the street from his place. To my surprise, I saw the B&S garage was still in operation, although with a different name.

By the way, Doty was the nephew of George DuVall, who invented the DuVall windshield - a boat type windshield for a car, and the DuVall hubcap - the first after-market hubcap that I knew of.  The first one had an S shape that emphasized the movement of the wheels.

In any case, this guy in the photo looks happy to be driving a cool hotrod on a sunny day. Who could want more than that?

This photo and more are in the book Flat Out.

Gasoline Alley

This old Gasoline Alley comic from 1944 is intriguing. I wonder if there was any good old stuff in Uncle Avery's garage? He's got a plan for everything. Those 34 x 3 1/2 inch tires haven't ever come back in style, tho' (click on the picture to see it larger).

Riding Bike - page 78

When putting together a book it's hard to decide what goes in, and what doesn't fit.  In the section "Dealers and Shops" of Riding Bike there's a photo of an interesting looking pickup owned by a Portland motorcycle shop called "American-British Cycle."  Here's part of the story behind that truck that didn't fit in the book.

"This was a pickup truck made from a car.  This car was built years before Ford built the Ranchero and Chevrolet brought out the el Camino. Jack Warner and Fuzzy Ball had a shop called American British Motorcycles and they originally wanted a truck that was useful to haul motorcycles. "

"Rudy Rehbein was a body man from Estacada.  They wanted him to make a flatbed with a piece of plywood behind the driver’s area. He said 'No.' If he was going to do it he was going to make it nicer.
He used the Cadillac sheet metal and blended in the back of a '51 Chev pickup cab and then they had Cadillac rear fenders on there. I don’t remember if it had a tailgate but it would carry three motorcycles."

"The car was so well done it won the Custom car class in the 1952 New Car Dealers Expo show and it was featured in Rod & Custom magazine."

"The American British Motorcycles shop lasted about a year and then the pickup was sold down to California to a motorcycle club."

"I (Drake) wrote an article about it for Old Cars Weekly, and I heard from a friend that Cliff Majhor, the Sandy Bandit, said I had everything wrong. So I called him up to set the record straight.  I had said that there were three bullet holes in the back of the cab when the police shot at it.  He corrected me and said there were four."




Portland Mayor Terry Shrunk on Hot Rodding - 1955


An excerpt from a letter from Portland Mayor Terry Shrunk to the Portland Hot Rod Clubs of 1955. The text reads:
"A special meeting of the representatives of all interested Hot Rod Clubs in the metropolitan area will be held February 1, 1955, at 8 PM in the Classroom of the Uniform Division, Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, on the 8th Floor of the Multnomah County Court House. (Those attending meeting please enter on 5th Street Side of the Court House and take Jail Elevator to 8th Floor). Registration (no costs) to start at 7:30 P.M. Your Club is invited to have two or three representatives present at that meeting.
The general purpose of this meeting is threefold:
1. To discuss the development of a drag strip or strips in this general area and to receive a progress report on the proposed Vanport strip.
2. To discuss proposed traffic safety plans in which the various Hot Rod Clubs can compete with each other on competitive basis for a suitable trophy and suitable safety awards.
3. To discuss the problem of public relations programs of the various Hot Rod Clubs in this general area, and to devise means of bringing to the public's attention the fact that most Hot Rod Clubs are made up of responsible young men and women of this community who have built up a good driving record in this community, and further that members of these clubs have developed at considerable expense and a lot of hard work on their part, some fine automobiles and have in fact contributed materially to the automotive industry in the field of safety and mechanical advancement.
It is my personal feeling that there is not enough attention given to our various Hot Rod Clubs and that the general public far too often misunderstands the activities of these organizations and in fact maligns their driving record on our streets and highways. This problem cannot be clarified by the various clubs."

Excerpted from Jacket & Plaque: Portland Rod & Custom Clubs of the 'Fifties

2nd Annual Portland Roadster Show - October 1957

Here's the flier from the 2nd annual Portland Roadster Show,  October 1957.  Admission is only ninety cents.  Sponsored by the Multnomah Hot Rod Council (MHRC) -- same as it still is today!

Biker!

If you were a hot rodder in the early Fifties, it was because you wanted to go fast. And if you wanted to go really fast you bought a bike.

That desire for speed was all that bikers and hot rodders had in common. They were two separate groups, and only a few guys crossed over. That’s funny because it would seem that the two groups had a lot in common.

Hot rodders were outlaws who desired respectability, which resulted in mild schizophrenia. A hot rodder really wanted to drag it out at every stop light, but he had that NHRA decal on the windshield right under his nose, and he could read the motto, “Dedicated to Safety”. He also had his club plaque on the back of his car, and he knew that if he got caught street racing he could be bounced from the club. So he built a full-race engine and drove around town at 35 mph.

Bikers, on the other hand, seemed to know who they were. Society had deemed them outlaws and most seemed to embrace that title. They didn’t try to be respectable. You couldn’t ride a bike through an Oregon rainstorm wearing a suit, so bikers wore Levi’s, leather jackets, boots and greasy caps. They hung out at taverns, drank beer, rode noisy cycles and had a chick on the pillion. They weren’t Hell’s Angels yet, but they were moving in that direction.

My father always had one or two old Harleys around, but he didn’t fit the biker image. The guys I was in awe of hung out at Merhar’s Drive-In. That was the only place where you could get exotic food, like Coney Islands and root beer milkshakes, so anything that happened there seemed mysterious to me. From the safety of the back seat of my parents’ car I saw the row of chromed bikes parked near Merhar’s side door. They were big Harleys and Indians, suicide machines, with an occasional Velocette, Triumph or BSA. The bikers stood by their bikes, drinking beer, saying things I couldn’t hear to the passing car hops. Long after the bikers had ripped out of the parking lot I could hear the angry staccato of their exhausts as the roared up 82nd, and I was certain that they were riding to their fiery deaths.

So, naturally, when I later put my roadster on blocks after three years of using it as a daily driver, I bought a bike. The first one was a 1947 BSA twin, a real dog, a suicide machine, but at least I knew who I was.


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